Remains of humpback whale Spinnaker arrive in Provincetown

May 18, 2017

The remains of the humpback whale Spinnaker have arrived at the Center for Coastal Studies; her fully articulated skeleton will be installed at the Center over the next 4 – 5 days.

Spinnaker was a well known individual whose family has been monitored by researchers in the Center’s Humpback Whale Studies Program for more than three decades.

The 11 year old, 35 foot long humpback whale was named for the pattern on the underside of her tail; one straight and one curved line that together resembled a spinnaker sail.

Spinnaker spent her first summer with her mother, Palette, off Massachusetts, but later came to prefer more northerly areas of the Gulf of Maine, such as the coast of Maine and the Bay of Fundy.

On June 11, 2015, Spinnaker was found floating below a shore side cliff in Acadia National Park at Mt. Desert Island, Maine.

During her short life Spinnaker was freed from fishing gear by the Center for Coastal Studies Marine Animal Entanglement Response team no less than three times.

The first of these was in 2006, when she was just two years old. Then, in September 2014, she was found with gillnet lodged in her mouth and around her head and rope wound tightly around her tail, anchoring her in place until the CCS team and their collaborators freed her.

Spinnaker’s most recent disentanglement occurred on May 14, 2015. On this occasion, she was found 90 miles offshore of Provincetown, wrapped in heavy gear tied from her mouth to her tail, hog-tied, unable to move.

It was only a few weeks after this that Spinnaker’s carcass was discovered. A necropsy found rope embedded in the soft tissue and bone of the roof of her mouth and evidence of injury to the muscle in her throat and neck.

“Her death came as difficult news, particularly after our disentanglement efforts, but it also gave us a rare opportunity to document what happened and to attempt to determine exactly why she died,” said Dr. Jooke Robbins, Director of the Humpback Whale Studies Program, “Such information is critical for understanding entanglement impacts and identifying the most effective actions for preventing future deaths”

The Center for Coastal Studies was selected by the federal government as the caretaker of Spinnaker’s remains.

Within the next few days her cleaned and articulated skeleton will be installed at the Center’s Hiebert Marine Laboratory in Provincetown where she will be available to scientists for their ongoing research, and will serve as a powerful reminder to the public about the threats facing whales.

The preservation, articulation and installation of Spinnaker was conducted by Dan DenDanto and his colleagues at Whales and Nails, based in Seal Cove, Maine. Dan is the Director of the Fin Whale Catalog and a Senior Scientist at Allied Whale and a Research Associate at the College of the Atlantic; he is also a member of the Scientific Advisory Board of CETOS Research  Organization. Dan has been cleaning, articulating and restoring whale skeletons professionally since 1993. Examples of his work can be seen at New Bedford Whaling Museum, Nantucket Whaling Museum, Glacier Bay National Park and elsewhere.